“He said he couldn’t stand it; he told me that. But I never thought—Oh! Poor man!” And, burying her face against his arm, she gave way.
Petrified, and conscious that John at the far end of the carriage was breathing rather hard, Felix could only stroke her arm till at last she whispered:
“There’s nobody now for Derek to save. Oh, if you’d seen that poor man in prison, Dad!”
And the only words of comfort Felix could find were:
“My child, there are thousands and thousands of poor prisoners and captives!”
In a truce to agitation they spent the rest of that three hours’ journey, while the train rattled and rumbled through the quiet, happy-looking land.
It was tea-time when they reached Worcester, and at once went up to the Royal Charles Hostel. A pretty young woman in the office there informed them that the young gentleman had paid his bill and gone out about ten o’clock; but had left his luggage. She had not seen him come in. His room was up that little staircase at the end of the passage. There was another entrance that he might have come in at. The ‘Boots’ would take them.
Past the hall stuffed with furniture and decorated with the stags’ heads and battle-prints common to English county-town hotels, they followed the ‘Boots’ up five red-carpeted steps, down a dingy green corridor, to a door at the very end. There was no answer to their knock. The dark little room, with striped walls, and more battle-prints, looked out on a side street and smelled dusty. On a shiny leather sofa an old valise, strapped-up ready for departure, was reposing with Felix’s telegram, unopened, deposited thereon. Writing on his card, “Have come down with Nedda. F. F.,” and laying it on the telegram, in case Derek should come in by the side entrance, Felix and Nedda rejoined John in the hall.
To wait in anxiety is perhaps the hardest thing in life; tea, tobacco, and hot baths perhaps the only anodynes. These, except the baths, they took. Without knowing what had happened, neither John nor Felix liked to make inquiry at the police station, nor did they care to try and glean knowledge from the hotel people by questions that might lead to gossip. They could but kick their heels till it became reasonably certain that Derek was not coming back. The enforced waiting increased Felix’s exasperation. Everything Derek did seemed designed to cause Nedda pain. To watch her sitting there, trying resolutely to mask her anxiety, became intolerable. At last he got up and said to John:
“I think we’d better go round there,” and, John nodding, he added: “Wait here, my child. One of us’ll come back at once and tell you anything we hear.”
She gave them a grateful look and the two brothers went out. They had not gone twenty yards when they met Derek striding along, pale, wild, unhappy-looking. When Felix touched him on the arm, he started and stared blankly at his uncle.